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Two communities develop new high school designs

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

After months of meetings to help determine the design of new buildings for Kensington and West Philadelphia High Schools, community participants in both neighborhoods expect to finalize their design options in December.

Since June, an average of 40 people participating in a “steering committee” at each high school have shown up to meet monthly with Concordia LLC – a nationally recognized planning and architectural design firm – to develop ideas for the schools.

The committees include parents, students, educators, clergy, business leaders, and others. They have met with representatives from the design firm to learn about the school planning process, to identify assets and needs in the school community, and to analyze various design options.

With dozens more schools slated for construction or renovation under the District’s capital improvement plan, the Philadelphia Education Fund is working with Concordia in those two neighborhoods to develop a blueprint for how a community-based school-planning model can be implemented.

Concordia’s participatory approach reflects a commitment to develop schools that foster a sense of ownership, inclusion, and empowerment in the schools’ communities.

In these two neighborhoods, activists from the Philadelphia Student Union in West Philadelphia and Youth United for Change in Kensington have been engaged in a multiyear campaign to lobby for new high schools that reflect a “small school” philosophy. The involvement of Concordia responded to the student organizations’ push for a voice in the design of new buildings.

The School District’s current capital budget includes $81 million over four years for a new West Philadelphia High, and $12 million for small schools conversion at Kensington. A new, small high school building in Kensington is also planned.

Evening meetings to discuss design options will take place October 11 for Kensington, and October 12 for West Philadelphia. A meeting on “Building Consensus” is scheduled for November 15 for Kensington, and November 9 for West Philadelphia. A final report and celebration is scheduled for December 15 for Kensington and December14 for West Philadelphia.

For more information, call Tia Keitt at the Philadelphia Education Fund, 215-665-1400.